Legal Career

The Great Resignation: What’s really happening in the legal sector – and how your firm should respond

Economists across the globe are buzzing over The Great Resignation – with the prediction that millions of professionals will pack up to find their ideal working conditions. But will this trend sweep Australasia’s legal sector too? Or will it blow right on by?

The Great Resignation: What’s really happening in the legal sector – and how your firm should respond

After two years of remote working, legal professionals now expect more from their employers. More support, more flexibility and fair compensation.

Economists across the globe are buzzing over The Great Resignation – with the prediction that millions of professionals will pack up to find their ideal working conditions.

But will this trend sweep Australasia’s legal sector too? Or will it blow right on by?

Legal recruiters Rochelle Rothfield and Lisa Gray share what’s really happening in their local markets – and how legal firms can counter resignation risk.


Australians are mostly staying put (but still, embrace hybrid working)

Taking a step back from the international buzz, The Great Resignation is largely overblown, says Rochelle Rothfield. Rochelle has over 20 years of legal recruitment experience in Australia and is the Founder and Director of Rothfield Legal Recruitment.

The Australian legal landscape did go through a rough patch early in the pandemic. Some lawyers switched jobs after being thrown into the deep end of unsupported remote work and unfamiliar technology.

In fact, Rochelle saw recruitment demand rise by about 30% over the past two years.

However, legal firms quickly adapted to the growing need for flexible and hybrid working. So the end of the pandemic is no longer a catalyst for mass resignations.

“Resignations happen all the time”, says Rochelle. “Whether that’s now, last year or pre-pandemic. People’s reasons to move remain the same – better support, salary, opportunities and work-life balance.

“Lawyers who were going to stay in law will remain so. Throughout the pandemic, only two people I know completely left the legal field, but that happens any normal year.”

The only thing that’s changed is people can now afford the time to pause, reflect and commit to moving.

“I don’t see a Great Resignation away from the legal profession. But what I do see is a Great Reluctance to return onsite – whether working in a firm or in-house,” says Rochelle.

“Lawyers want to work to live, not live to work. And in the last 24 months, they’ve grown attuned to that.

“These past two years have reaffirmed their ability to be productive and engaged without physically working beside their team and clients.

“If law firms want to keep their talented lawyers, they can’t now revert back to old conservative work environments.”

New Zealand’s in the thick of – and it’s only the start

Meanwhile, Lisa Gray, Founder and Partner of Tyler Wren believes that The Great Resignation has and will take the New Zealand legal industry by storm.

Lisa says, “The impacts of the pandemic have been draining senior Kiwi lawyers away from New Zealand’s small pool of talent for the past two years.”

As a specialist boutique recruitment firm, Lisa and her team manage the interchange of lawyers across New Zealand and Australia – including supporting those who’ve completed their overseas experience (OE) to return home.

But since the pandemic, more and more Kiwis are seeking permanent migration. The Australian legal industry, for instance, promises higher salaries and a better cost of living.

Lisa also notes that we don’t even have to look far to see this employment trend. A minor movement is happening in New Zealand’s backyard.

“An Auckland-based Great Resignation is appearing. Legal professionals are moving away from New Zealand’s COVID capital. They’re branching out towards Christchurch and other regions that offer more affordable living and a more relaxed work environment.”

Borders reopening will also spark a spike in resignations, with Kiwi solicitors embarking on their OE rite of passage towards the UK.

“Recent trade agreement might draw UK-qualified lawyers to fill New Zealand’s skill shortage by practising here. However, that’s a development for the future,” Lisa says.

“For now, our lawyers’ foreign income is boosting New Zealand’s economy. Unless there is a major economic shift, The Great Resignation will continue to trend in the months ahead.”

Beware the costs of outdated work environments

It’s clear that both markets are re-emerging from the pandemic differently.

But Rochelle and Lisa agree that a return to the old ways of working and increased staff resignations will weaken your firm’s firepower, impacting:

  • Finance: With high talent turnover, firms will need to fork out more funds to attract and train new talent – or face even pricier outsourcing options to fill the service gap.
  • Productivity: Training new staff – and new graduates in particular – to become self-sufficient takes time (especially in a remote working environment). And your firm's output will take a toll if experienced staff leave during this period.
  • Mental health: With an inexperienced workforce, new staff must bear all the heavier work under tight deadlines. This may result in burnout – and even more resignations.
  • Reputation: Beyond the financial, productivity and wellbeing costs, high turnover rates drag down the reputation of your practice. This makes it more difficult to recruit new staff – and may harm your client-facing brand too.

How to safeguard your talent – and buck the trend

The solution to countering the effects of The Great Resignation? Retainment.

Lisa and Rochelle provide their top tips to not just hold on to your staff – but to keep them driven and dedicated to your firm or organisation.

  • Equip your people with the latest technology: Lawyers, especially younger ones, expect the newest computer, software and legal tech in the office and at home to produce their best work. 
  • Show you value them: Consider introducing comprehensive lifestyle benefits, like health and wellbeing vouchers. A lawyer’s pay must reflect the value they’re delivering your business. If it doesn’t, they’re going to find one that does.
  • Welcome (and support) employees back into the office: For junior lawyers, set aside time to supervise and mentor them. It’s been a turbulent two years, so reassure them that you’re available to guide and support them. 
  • Engage in open dialogue: To gauge how your people have been navigating the post-pandemic transition, conduct engagement surveys or simply sit down and talk with your team. By making time to listen, it’s easier to identify and resolve issues early.

Above all, learn to trust your staff. They’ve already proven themselves over the past two years. Work arrangements shouldn’t be prescribed as a one-size-fits-all approach.

 “To evolve with post-pandemic work, law firms and in-house legal teams need to invest time in tailoring work arrangements for each individual. And professional development programs can guide employers and employees in their transition,” Rochelle says.

Prepare your practice for the future of work

For management advice, join the How to build resilient and focused teams webinar on 1 March 2022. This CPD program will teach you how to handle your team’s stress as the legal industry settles into hybrid work for the long-term.

And, to hear how other law firms dealt with the pandemic, explore the on-demand CPD course The Work, health and safety – lessons from the pandemic.

Not the courses you had in mind? Explore our other CPD courses.